Green Infrastructure can help us overcome water scarcity issues

Posted in: Environmental, Municipal, Water

desert plants and ground coverAs fires rage across Australia, resiliency to climate change and impacts from extreme weather events remain top of mind. These issues have the potential to affect human populations in very real ways. In addition to wildfires, communities across the world are facing extreme heat, flooding, and droughts. Groundwater reserves used by over half of the world population are being depleted at an alarming rate. As global climate trends move from dry to drier and global populations continue to expand, water scarcity is an ever-increasing concern, especially in more arid regions. Green infrastructure (GI) has the potential to provide some solutions.

GI implementation strategies like rainwater harvesting and infiltration facilities increase the efficiency of water supply systems, thus reducing strain on our groundwater aquifers. If we use rainwater harvesting systems for outdoor irrigation and some indoor uses, we significantly reduce water demand from potable water supplies, thereby reducing groundwater withdrawal. Additionally, infiltrating stormwater runoff into the soil recharges groundwater. This is especially critical in communities like our arid and semi-arid regions of the US where impervious surfaces and hard (or gray) infrastructure reduce groundwater replenishment.

Green Infrastructure in action

We’ve seen GI help populations worldwide. The China Water Conservation Project, which worked to raise awareness and increase use of GI’s natural resource management practices through sustainable farming techniques, successfully raised groundwater levels in the country’s arid northern plains. The project also significantly raised farmer income levels.

Meanwhile, in the US, Los Angeles is exploring how to integrate GI into their climate change resiliency plan. The city is working to incentivize GI development with tax credits, air development rights and other innovative programs. The Los Angeles Basin Water Augmentation Study estimates that implementing GI practices could increase groundwater recharge in the Los Angeles region “from 16% of annual rainfall to 48%.

Looking ahead

While implementing GI has been shown to provide numerous important benefits, this is no easy task—especially in arid climates where GI would have the most impact. GI facilities in these regions require special consideration due to larger temperature deviations between seasons, as well as the need for drought-tolerant and low maintenance vegetation. However, the challenges are well worth the effort.

GI benefits are becoming more and more apparent, and as we face ever greater environmental pressures related to global climate change, the demand for these facilities is rising. GI is being incorporated into landscapes around the world. We can benefit from sharing in the lessons learned globally to create successful GI solutions in our own communities.

Kari Nichols, PE

About the Author

If a raindrop falls on the project, Kari Nichols, P.E., gets involved to find a stormwater management solution. “I believe in dedication and follow-through,” she says. “Deciphering regulatory language and developing workable design solutions helps me connect with clients and colleagues.” Kari has a taste for adventure and a passion for sustainability, which she satisfies by exploring natural and urban environments.

Read more posts by Kari Nichols, PE

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